By The Kathmandu Post/ANN
A senior pilot was killed and two crew members were injured when a cargo flight of Goma Air crashed as it was trying to land at Lukla Airport on Saturday noon.
Captain Paras Rai was pronounced dead at Pasang Lhamu-Nicole Niquille Hospital in Lukla. Co-pilot Shreejan Manandhar and flight attendant Pragya Manandhar are receiving treatment at the same hospital. Manandhar’s condition is said to be critical.
The injured could not be airlifted to Kathmandu on Saturday as a chopper sent to rescue them could not land in Lukla due to bad weather.
On duty air traffic controller Ujjwal Tiwari said the plane’s nose hit a mound of earth near the runway as it was preparing to land at 2:05pm. “The plane with call sign 9N-AKY slammed into the mound, fell 100 metres and broke into three pieces,” he said.
There was no fire and no one on the ground was injured.
According to Tiwari, the plane was cleared as the airport’s weather was “fair enough to land”. “The skies were clear with some patchy fog developing. There was light wind. The captain was continuously in touch with the controller,” he said. “The captain had reported that the valley, where the airport is situated, was clear and was making a final approach,” he added. “Suddenly, the plane made a low approach and turned the nose straight up while continuing to land. We could see the plane coming down. For about 10 seconds, I didn’t even realise it would hit, but in no time it slammed into the mound and we started running towards the runway.”
It was a Czech-made Let L-410 short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft which was acquired by Goma Air on October 11, 2014.
Rajan Pokhrel, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan), suspected that the aircraft could have hit some turbulence on the lower part of the valley while flying downhill to land. “It’s an initial assumption. An investigation committee that is due to be formed will find the exact reason of the crash.”
Madhu Limbu, an eyewitness working with Himalayan Trust, said that some cloud patches were developing at the airport when the plane crashed.
The airport, the gateway to Mt Everest, is considered one of the “world’s most dangerous airports” as it demands courage and precision to fly at tiny, treacherous runway perched on a steep cliff.
This is the second major crash with casualty since 2008 at Lukla Airport, also known as Tenzing-Hillary Airport after the first men to climb Mt Everest.
On October 8, 2008, Yeti Airlines Flight 103 crashed on final approach and caught fire, killing 18 passengers and crew. The aircraft’s captain was the only survivor.